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Brown to face questions over Iraq war

world Updated: Mar 05, 2010 11:39 IST
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was scheduled to testify on Friday to the country's inquiry on mistakes made over the Iraq war, a potentially embarrassing session before a looming national election.

Brown, who served as Treasury chief from 1997 to 2007 and approved military spending, will give around four hours of evidence to the five-person panel, watched in an inquiry room by relatives of those killed in the US-led conflict.

He also planned to meet with some soldiers' families at the London conference center where hearings are taking place, though Brown's spokesman Simon Lewis said all meetings would be private. Brown has faced accusations that he failed to ensure troops had adequate equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been accused of insensitivity in some of his dealings with bereaved families. The panel is likely to question Brown on the timing of Britain's withdrawal from Iraq last year, in particular on the decision to pull troops from the southern Iraqi city of Basra despite the prevalence of militia fighters there.

Hearings in the inquiry began in November and have seen Tony Blair, MI6 intelligence agency chief John Sawers, the head of Britain's military Jock Stirrup and a host of ministers and government officials offer testimony.

Anti-war campaigners planned to protest outside the hearing as Brown's testifies, though a demonstration during Blair's evidence was relatively small.

Brown commissioned the inquiry last year to address concerns over the case made for war, and to scrutinize mistakes made over post-conflict security and reconstruction.

Initially he planned to testify after Britain's national election, which is expected to be held May 6, but, under pressure from opposition lawmakers, later agreed to give evidence beforehand.

Ex-defense secretary Geoff Hoon previously told the inquiry that Brown's decisions as Treasury chief forced the Defense Ministry to "make some rather difficult cuts."

Gen. Michael Walker, a former head of the British armed forces, said in an earlier session that the country's five most senior military chiefs had threatened to resign in a dispute with Brown in 2004 over funding.

However, Kevin Tebbit, a key defense official, said that, while the overall defense budget was too small, Brown had not withheld resources needed for the Iraq campaign.

Lewis defended Brown's record on military spending. "It is incontrovertible that the overall budget in that period has gone up," he told reporters Thursday before the hearing. John Chilcot, head of the inquiry, has said he will seek meetings with former members of the Bush administration in the next few months.

The panel will offer recommendations by the end of the year, but won't apportion blame or establish criminal or civil liability.